I graduated from Harvard Business School last month with 900 indomitable classmates as part of the Class of 2021. I feel a deep sense of gratitude to my family, friends, colleagues, and everyone else who made this journey from Bombay to Boston possible. While I came here to pivot from tech to the wonderful world of Venture Capital (read this previous HBS blog post), I learnt a great deal outside it too.

500 cases, hundreds of case protagonists, viewpoints from classmates belonging to 40+ countries, and over 1000 hours of case discussions later I’ve come up with 7 things I’m taking away with me for the rest of my life. I hope this inspires others looking to get a similar transformational experience know that you can do it too! While these takeaways aren’t unique, this is my perspective.

#1 You can build a community online. While Covid kept us physically apart for a large part of the second year, it brought us emotionally closer and created a deeper sense of community. I stumbled during my first Zoom class in August last year – I was still on mute as I made a comment in a Finance class. However, we began to help each other as we made progress. The last two years have given us many great gifts, the biggest of which is creating leaders of tomorrow who will move us into entirely new ways of community building.

Building a community online - the VCPE conference was online this year

#2 Impostor syndrome is real, but your classmates will help you with it. During START week (the first week), I sat in Klarman Hall with 900 new admits. Surrounding me were veterans, entrepreneurs, scientists, activists, artists, among many others. As someone who started business school a few years later than some people choose to and thought that maybe my previous work experience wouldn’t be as applicable. I felt like an impostor but I found over the next two years that impostor syndrome is nearly universal and always unfounded. All of us belong here and have enriched the HBS community in our own special way. I learned that my experience working at Google across many teams and geographies helped enrich the class’s understanding around cases in tech, marketing, and strategy.

#3 The case method teaches you to lead in the unknown. The protagonists in almost all of the 500 cases we read and discussed had imperfect information. They had to make a decision while facing time and resource constraints, with the impact of that decision affecting everything from just their immediate team to billions of dollars of revenue globally. The beauty of the case method is that it breaks down the most complicated problems to small details, and comments in class typically mean you’re demonstrating what approach you’re taking to move through complexity and uncertainty. This trains you every single day to develop rigorous mental frameworks to deal with problems in this methodical way.

#4 Ask for help. The biggest advice I got from one of my HBS professors in the first year was not to be ashamed to ask for help. Need to learn about a new industry? Ask your classmates. Need a job? Ask your classmates if they can introduce you to someone you need to reach at your dream company. Want a co-founder? Ask! Over the last two years I’ve found it’s not if you can get the help you need, it’s in how many hours. This is only possible because the community –including professors, alumni, and classmates – is mission-driven, selfless, and deeply believes in paying it forward.

#5 Friendships make HBS one of a kind. In the first few weeks at Harvard Business School you get to know classmates who genuinely care about who you are without any transactional expectations. Even if it’s just a coffee or a meal over the two years, it makes a difference that someone has taken the time to share their story, and in turn learn yours. These genuine bonds are necessary as you go through the two years, and beyond. They’ll open doors to a future career opportunity, introduce you to your significant other, or even help you get that hard-to-find restaurant reservation (this happened to me!). The people are what make this place truly one of a kind, and it’s the best investment I’ve made over the last two years.

Pushing my comfort zone at the Kilimanjaro summit, led by HBS outdoors club

#6 Self-reflection is important and helps you plan your future. Each year graduating students are asked to answer the question from the last lines of the poem “The Summer Day” by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Mary Oliver: What will you do with your one wild and precious life? To help you answer this question, the administration has put up poignant black and white photos of alumni who answered the question while they were students, called the Portrait Project. As you walk through Spangler Hall you truly feel heft the question poses, and plumb the depths of your thoughts searching for an answer. While I don’t yet have a suitable answer to the question, I do know that I want to act with purpose and make decisions that will make me happy. Therefore, after much internal deliberation I decided to plunge headlong into the world of venture capital. The program, especially the electives in the second year, focus on reflecting deeply within yourself, your place in the community, and the world around you. It’s something I’ve included in my daily life over the last two years, and will do so going forward.

#7 Diverse teams perform better. “You can’t be what you can’t see” is one of the most striking quotes I’ve heard here. With a dearth of strong role models in careers like Finance, Tech and Entrepreneurship, many young women, people of color, migrants, and minorities are self-selecting out of these careers before they even really give it a chance. The richness of the case method and the classroom experience came from the diversity that exists within each section, and has reinforced my belief that diverse teams perform better. Along with admissions, the school has made a commitment to work with professors and case writers to significantly increase representation within courses. The fact that 80% of cases used in business schools globally are developed here at Harvard Business School will help make a positive difference in the world of business education globally. Some of the other ways in which the school is thinking about improving diversity are faculty hiring, new course development, and DEI training.

The diversity of section J, class of '21 (taken pre-Covid)

In the words of Dean Datar during his commencement speech, Harvard Business School has given me “confidence, resilience, adaptability, and an ability to accept challenges — while looking to the future with optimism, hope and creativity.” I’m excited to see what the Class of 2021 does with their one wild and precious life. 🚀